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Local football fans face three-week wait to discover if Irish Cup Final will be played behind closed doors

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Limited numbers of football fans at last year's Irish Cup final

Limited numbers of football fans at last year's Irish Cup final

PA

Limited numbers of football fans at last year's Irish Cup final

The Irish FA would consider allowing fans in for free at this year's Irish Cup Final - if the Northern Ireland Executive give the green light for the decider to be used as a test case.

The Executive is scheduled to meet again at Stormont on May 13 to discuss reducing the Covid-19 restrictions in Northern Ireland and the IFA are hopeful that, with the 'R' rate reduced and vaccines intake on the rise, government officials will jump through two stages of their pathway to recovery and allow a limited number of supporters to attend the Final at Mourneview Park on Friday, May 21.

Spectators have been banned from attending sporting fixtures in Northern Ireland since a full lockdown was introduced at Christmas.

New FIFA Vice-President and current Irish FA President David Martin (below), who heads up the Challenge Cup committee, says: "My goal is to have supporters in for the Final. I don't think it will be possible for the Semi-Final with the two games at Mourneview on the same day, but I'd be hopeful of having supporters in attendance at the Final."

On offering tickets to fans for free, Martin adds: "We did that last year and felt it worked well. It is certainly something we would consider doing again this year and should the NI Executive give the go-ahead then we would discuss the concept as a Challenge Cup committee."

The Irish Cup Semi-Final and Final were delayed last year due to the pandemic until the end of July, with the Friday night decider between Glentoran and Ballymena United at Windsor Park having 500 fans in attendance, following Covid-19 protocols.

The Irish FA don't want to put a figure on how many supporters they would like to see in at Mourneview Park and insist they will simply follow the guidelines set down by the Executive should fans be allowed to attend the game.

President Martin continues: "Last year we had 500 supporters in attendance at the Final and, if possible, it would be nice to have the same or possibly more this year. I honestly believe Mourneview could cope with that and all the social distancing that is required. But it will be down to the Executive to decide that.

"I know our team at the Irish FA have been working hard with government and will continue to do so to try and get supporters at the Final."

This year's Irish Cup will kick off on Tuesday night with 26 teams in the competition and games will be played throughout May until the Final, which will be screened live on BBC Two Northern Ireland on Friday, May 21.

In recent weeks Danske Bank Premiership clubs have been pleading for the Executive to allow fans back into their stadiums for the final six weeks of the season.

However, despite non-essential shops and outdoor bars/restaurants opening this Friday, no decision on spectators at sporting events is likely to be made before May 13.

GAA, Ulster Rugby, cricket and hockey will also be awaiting this decision with interest.


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